The Ala Buzreba Case: What Future for Millennial Politicians?

Post by Maxime Rousseau

Another election campaign, another scandal involving young candidates. In the last provincial campagne in Quebec just barely over a year ago, a candidate for the Coalition Avenir Quebec was publicly shamed for pictures posted on Facebook which showed him nude, but which were PG-13 by anyone's standards. In the 2011 federal elections, paper candidates who sailed on party's popularity made a brutal entry in politics; journalists and pundits had a field day going through their social media, trying to spark whatever controversy they could. This time, more than a month from the elections, it's a young LPC candidate that is targeted over tweets she posted at age 16. It's about time we talked about having digital natives running for office entails, because the phenomenon isn't about to stop.

Kids say they darnest things; when they're kids, we just tacitly accept this as a fact, knowing full well that the social pressures in favour of political correctness takes some time. Growing up is a process: life experience shows us what can and can not be said in certain settings, and those darnest thoughts become repressed, but not absent. Thankfully! I'm not psychologist, but I can hardly see how ruminating on thoughts, challenging them through experience, reasoning and debate with peers  can be anything other than good for personal development.

Sometimes, those thoughts seep out. It's one of the pivotal moments where thoughts are challenged in the open with other human beings, a test which can reinforce or alter pre-existing thoughts and opinions. For the boomers, most of the time it seeped in the classroom or with relatives. In the case where this through was considered unconventional or undesirable, it was met with anything from a serious talk to a good spanking to fingers getting snapped by the teacher's yardstick. I'm just guessing this was the case of course, not having been there to verify, but the hundreds of stories revolving around bodily punishment told to me by older relatives make for an impressive collection of anecdotal evidence. Millennials, for whom being a teenager also coincided with the rise of Web 2.0, had another place to voice their ideas and be exposed to reactions from their peers: the internet. An internet which never forgets, and with the advent of big data, knows pretty much anything there is to know about anybody. An internet which also encourages sharing thoughts, in one way through the means it deploys to make it possible (removing 'barriers of entry' to expression), and through the social pressures that ubiquitous use presents. Social media became second nature, a visible tip to the iceberg of through processes which don't always comply with political correctness.

As Jaime Weinman from Macleans so intelligently puts it, holding someone to something they've said years ago is essentially denying them the right to change opinions, which really makes no sense. Add to that you're holding someone responsible for what is essentially short bursts of teen angst, make so easily broadcast-able by internet social media, and it's just plain ridiculous.

Politically, continuing this tradition of hawking on the young hopefuls of institutionalized politics by scrutinizing their social media can only yield bad things. If everybody with questionnable social media posts is automatically disqualified from running for office, then the only people left on the ticket will be incumbent gerontocrats who never had social media in the first place and those young people who are good enough at self-censorship to weasel their way out of being accountable for their past mistakes. Tacitly choosing politicians which SEEM to be spotless by shunning those who were essentially too transparent at certain parts of their lives is basically the equivalent of favouring secrecy, blandness and/or hypocrisy.  In a world were everyone distrusts politicians, is this really what we are looking for? Would you rather a liar with an immaculate facade, or a human being who's traits, flaws and life experience shows through, for better or worst? Elections are already popularity contests in which the name of the game is marketing and strategy much more than substance; lets not make it worst by allowing only those who have social media consultants to be successful.

Ala Buzreba is stuck in the perfect storm. When I was sixteen, I probably called Youtube commenters horrible things, but since it was most likely stuff about video games or computers, nobody gives a shit. She commented on two of the most sensitive subjects, untouchables to the PC crowd: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and homosexuals. Instant media crucifixion. Dealing with the media attention must be difficult to a level which I can't even grasp, but I wish she had stood up. I wish she would have explained herself as she did, but written it off, to break this idea that what you said offhand or with a hot head at 16 invalidates you from running for office for life. I also wish she would have told those journalists just how disgusted we all are of them going for such low hanging fruit, contributing to the widespread political cynicism. Even thought I think her party and her leader is part of Canada's political culture problem, I wish she had stayed on the ticket, because she deserves her chance.